Thursday, August 13, 2015

Curry Leaf Tree (Murraya koenigii)


I have had my Curry Leaf tree for several years now near my kitchen window where it gives light shade to several containers of herbs and vegetable greens.  The tree gets its name because you add the leaves to curry..  The leaves are not usually used to make curry powder which is a combination of several spices.  Some years ago I was introduced to the use of this leaf in cooking by a relative who had lived in Fiji and was now a curry expert.  The leaves have a wonderful citrus smell and are used rather like bay leaves to heighten the flavor of curries, stews and soups.  The leaf, although smallish, is a little too stiff to be eaten.  However, I see on Indian websites that it is highly praised for its medicinal qualities so you could grind it or cut it up tiny if you wanted to eat it to get the extra health benefits.  A good handful of  fresh leaves are sautéed in cooking oil at the beginning or at the end of the cooking process and the flavored oil incorporated into the dish..  I recently had a lovely lentil soup in Nadi, Fiji with several Curry Leaves in it.

As you would expect with anything to do with curry, the Curry Leaf tree is native to India and is mostly used in the cooking of Southern and West India as well as in Sri Lanka.  From my own travels I know that it is also popular amongst the Indian populations of Malaysia and Fiji.

The Curry Leaf tree can grow to 15 feet or so in height.  It has a light canopy and the leaves tend to fall off in the autumn months.  It helps to pinch back the branch growth to get a fuller canopy of leaves plus it makes for easier picking if you keep the leaves reachable.  I saw one tree in Samoa that had been severely cut back to 3 feet high and lots of little trees were growing up from the roots around the main tree but this is the only time I have seen this happen.  It is quite common to find little seedlings growing under the tree from dropped fruit.  These little seedlings can be pulled up and planted or the seed from the fruit can be propagated  in pots.  Either way the seedlings are quite strong but will take their time in growing into a little tree. The tree gets clumps of small white flowers and then purple/black berries in the summer.   The berries are considered poisonous by some but the fruit eating birds love them.